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Numbers don’t lie

Mar 15,2017
The Korea-U.S Free Trade Agreement that took effect five years ago today has clearly benefitted both countries. Despite shrinking global trade volume amid a worldwide economic slump, the countries’ bilateral trade saw a 1.7 percent increase. While the market share of Korean products in the United States rose to 3.2 percent from 2.6 percent, the share of U.S. products in Korea increased to 10.6 percent from 8.5 percent. Korean cars and U.S. beef are good examples of products which have seen healthy growth in new sales.

The remarkable results put the once-painful negotiations in the shade. The FTA was struck between the Roh Moo-hyun government and the George W. Bush administration in June 2007. Former President Roh stressed the deal would serve as a new growth engine for our economy. But labor unions and civic groups vehemently opposed it.

But Roh fully backed the pact. The president didn’t care at all if the deal was considered rightist or leftist. Nevertheless, many lawmakers were bent on criticizing the deal. They even compared it to the shameful Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905. The benefits of the FTA after five years explicitly show who stood on the wrong side of history.

It is Uncle Sam who is now trying to find fault with the deal. During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump lambasted it for “killing U.S. jobs.” After inauguration, he threatened to renegotiate the pact. In an annual report, the U.S. Trade Representative insisted on a review of the deal because the U.S. trade deficit with Korea doubled from $13.2 billion to $27.6 billion since it took effect in 2012. Analysts say that office attacks the FTA for domestic reasons just as liberal groups did in Korea a decade ago.

We must prepare for the assault. Even though the U.S. trade deficit got bigger, its surplus in the services sector grew noticeably from $10.9 billion to $14.1 billion. America enjoys its competitiveness in the intellectual property category, in particular.

The U.S. also benefits from direct investment from Korea. Korea invested $51.1 billion in the U.S. while the U.S. invested $20.1 billion in Korea over the last five years. Most of Korea’s direct investments in America help create jobs. The number of U.S. workers in Korean companies surged to 45,000 in 2015 from 35,000 in 2011. America benefits from Korea’s imports of U.S. weapons. Our government must prevent a renegotiation thorough logical persuasion or at least minimize the scope of renegotiation.

The Korea-U.S. trade deal has proven its mutual benefits. Seoul must do its best to help Washington see reason.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 15, Page 30